The Iria ritual ceremony

The tribes of the Niger Delta practice the Iria, a ritual ceremony that initiates young girls into adulthood. The participating girls are between the ages of 14 and 16.

This ritual is not only a symbol of coming of age but also a ceremony girls must undergo to be able to marry and have children of their own. 

The ceremony happens in four stages; the pre-Oboko stage, the fattening room stage, the Oboko proper and the post-Oboko.

The first stage involves the girls dressing in a traditional one-piece wrapper from their waists to the base of their knees. In certain places, they stand bare-breast for the crowd to examine them to see that their virginity is intact.

A girl who refuses to show her breasts or fails the examination is considered shameful and disrespectful. She is likely to undergo public shaming. However, this rarely happens as most girls view the opportunity as an honour.

In the second stage, the girls visit the fattening room where they are fed nutritious foods like pounded yam mixed with pounded plantain. They are not allowed to engage in any duties. Their movement is limited to ensure they gain the necessary weight. This step is Vital as the girls are assumed to be fit to be engaged by a suitor and possibly be married. 

During this period, they are not to be seen by the rest of the community, especially boys. Experienced women in the community teach them how to relate with the public and care for themselves, their intended spouse and family.

On the last day, all the girls gather at the river and sing their songs together. The water spirits supposedly come and capture the girls on this day.

The next stage of the ritual involves removing the water spirits from the girls. The Osokolo, a masked man representing an ancestral spirit, hits them with a stick to remove the river spirits from their bodies. 

In the fourth and final stage, the girls are released from confinement and welcomed back to the community with songs and dance, dressed in ceremonious attires and decorated elegantly from head to toe with beads.

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